True Green Cities / An Elegy for Two Trees

Looking north up the east side of the 500 Block of Main Street.  My building is the 3 story building at the top next to the wonderful trees.

Looking north up the west side of the 500 Block of Main Street. My building is the 3 story building at the top next to the wonderful trees.

Two trees were unceremoniously killed and turned to sawdust in front of my window Tuesday morning, March 18th.  It was shocking; it wasn’t expected.  It was so loud all of my cats and I were shaking.  The sidewalk was then covered with their remains in the form of mounds of sawdust.

A Winter of Discontent

The past five months have been bleak – not just for Buffalo but for most of the eastern half of the country.  It’s been one of the worst winters in recent memory.  Buffalo has had two official blizzards this year, one during the Polar Vortex and one on March 12th.    Before this winter, the last blizzard was in 1993.  Personally, I have had better years.  My 17 year old cat Ramsay, whom I found in the recycling bin of my Manhattan apartment building in 1996, passed away in January and our household has been rather unmoored since then.  I moved back to Buffalo last year for many reasons, one of which was the winters had not been bad in many years.  I don’t like snow, cold, ice or gray – things Buffalo has had an abundance of this year it seems.  I liked living in Seattle and Winston-Salem, NC.  If you want to see snow or ski you drive two hours to the mountains. Then you drive back to the luscious green that lasts all year long. Certainly an occasional ice or snow storm hits Seattle or Winston-Salem (and they’ve gotten hit badly this year also), but it’s typically gone pretty quickly and nowhere has as many gray days as Buffalo it seems.  I know I’ve been complaining a lot and I haven’t liked that.  I just returned from four days in Houston which seemed to revive my spirits until Tuesday morning that was – when the chainsaw came to the 500 Block.

The Trees of Life

Puck sits on the 3rd floor window sill watching birds which have just flown from the tree to the ledge outside the window.

Puck sits on the 3rd floor window sill watching birds which have just flown from the tree to the ledge outside the window.

I live and work in a two story loft on Main Street in downtown Buffalo.  My huge commercial storefront windows face east.  When there is sun, the eastern half of my loft is brilliantly sunlit until about noon.  One of the things I loved about my place were the two huge trees that lived outside my windows, providing much needed shade in the summer and harboring birds and insects that provided my cats with hours of entertainment.  I don’t know what type of trees they were, they were deciduous, they were at least thirty feet high, they were very green. They made me very happy.

I was awakened just after 7 am (I had just gotten home from the airport at 2 am) by sounds I have only heard when I was trapped in the Yucatan during Hurricane Wilma, a Category 5 hurricane in 2005.  I thought a freight train was running through my bedroom.  The cats were shivering under the bed.  I walked to the window to find a man in a cherry picker cutting the trees down, throwing the limbs to a man who was putting them through a mill instantly turning these glorious trees into sawdust, on my sidewalk.  I had no idea the construction for this project was starting on Tuesday, or that all the trees would be “removed.”  I should have realized it – they did the same thing on the other sections of Main Street.

“Car Sharing” on Main Street

A photo I just happened to take of Main Street in 1986.  Bergers (now the Belesario) on the left, the low Gamler's Building with a marble facade in the center and the Hyatt Hotel on the right.

A photo I just happened to take of Main Street in 1986. Bergers (now the Belesario) on the left, the low Gamler’s Building (where I now live) with a marble facade in the center and the Hyatt Hotel on the right.

Vehicular traffic was removed from a stretch of Main Street in the 1980s when the NFTA Metro Rail line was constructed.  Many of the commercial enterprises along Main Street did not survive that construction, although downtown had been dying for quite some time with the flight to the suburbs.  With the light rail running down the center of Main Street, the wide pedestrian zones were always huge swaths of impervious surfaces with little greenery, much of it sadly planted in concrete containers.  But during the summer, Buffalo Place hangs fantastic flower pots on the light poles and these stately trees grew taller every season.  I’m not sure this new plan will be much better.  It’s more asphalt and planters.  I don’t understand why they couldn’t have rain gardens and pervious surfaces.  From the Landscape Plan Design Rendering it looks like it will be very hard surfaces yet again. Few people in Buffalo seem to really understand that sustainability is a way of life that should not include asphalt. For more information on the project, see Cars On Main Street Description Of Work Overview.

If I Could Recycle a Kitten Why Can’t the City of Buffalo Recycle Its Trees?

Puck and Ramsay cuddling on the red leather sofa while Noelle the Himalayan watches from her perch on the conference table.

Puck and Ramsay cuddling on the red leather sofa while Noelle the Himalayan watches from her perch on the conference table.

In 1996, a tiny one pound three week old kitten was found in a recycling bin in my Upper East Side apartment building.  He was sick with many diseases but he grew to be my close companion and great friend; at one time weighing 21 pounds.  He really ran our household and his loss on January 27th was truly almost unimaginable. I miss him every minute of every day.  His great love, Puck, has not yet come out of his fog of grief, and my remaining cats are still trying to figure out who’s in charge.

Losing trees seems to affect people in the same way as losing a dear pet.  When I worked at GSA as the Pacific Northwest federal Historic Preservation Officer and ran public meetings, the removal of trees brought out more of the community than alterations to a historic building ever did.  They add warmth and happiness.  I look out my window now, tree-less, and the bleakness is devastating.  Yes, they’ll be adding trees back a year from now, but why did they have to kill all the trees now?  They even killed the little trees growing in the concrete containers.

The luxuriant trees shading my loft.

The luxuriant trees shading my loft. And the trees in the concrete planters.

First, I really can’t believe the trees couldn’t be saved and relocated somewhere.  Second, if they truly couldn’t be saved, then why not recycle the wood?  Buffalo is filled with wood artists and furniture makers who I am sure would have loved the wood.  Or at the very least, why not cut the trees up for firewood?  Anything, anything but this, this dishonorable devastation – from tree of life to sawdust in an hour.  Farewell, dear trees, thank you for sharing your lives with me, Ramsay, Puck, Noelle and even baby Ariel for the past year and a half.

If you are interested in seeing the removal of the trees, please click on this Facebook Photo Portfolio link (you don’t have to be a Facebook member to view the photos.)

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© Copyright Barbara Campagna – True Green Cities - 2011-2013